A Japanese Sounding, Kentucky King

Story and Photos by: SSG Steve Tressler

DJIBOUTI – Being born in Fleming County, Ky., the covered bridge capital of the Commonwealth, isn’t a natural hub for those wanting to speak a foreign language. So how is it that Fleming County native Sgt. Bobby King speaks fluent Japanese?

 After all, the Asian population is less than one-half of one percent, county-wide in Fleming. King, the father to 5 children, and a self-described ‘wildman’ in his youth, was born and raised in Fleming County, and says he learned the language out of utter boredom while stationed in Okinawa as a US Marine in the 1980’s.

Listen by clicking here: Holiday Greetings from Sgt. King

King started his military career in 1981 with the US Army. After three years of reserve service he decided he wanted to be on active duty, but the Army said they didn’t have a spot for him. The Marine Corps however, was happy to oblige and, gave him a spot on active duty, with one catch…….it would be in Japan.

 It’s served him well ever since.

Sgt. Bobby King, a Fleming County native, speaks fluent Japanese and is serving in Africa with the Kentucky Guard and its Task Force Longrifles.

 Because it was that time in the Marine Corps from 1984-1992 that his utter boredom set in and his love of his new surroundings captured his imagination. So much so, that he learned to speak the language of the natives. After serving honorably in the Marine Corps for eight years he decided to leave active duty, but not Japan, where he stayed on as an English teacher until from 1992-1998. “Sadly there’s a lot of Japanese kids that speak English like hillbilly’s all over Japan right now,”(As a result of his own accent) King said with a laugh.

 After his six years of teaching English he decided to head back home to the bluegrass state where he took a job in Flemingsburg with Toyo Seat, a Japanese company, and a tier 3 supplier to Toyota. That job lasted several years and he eventually reached a point where he was ready to be his own boss, which is why he makes his living as a personal trainer today.

The most fun he’s had knowing the language is when he’s in the company of those who speak Japanese and they assume he does not. It’s then that he’ll speak up and look at their astonished faces with a little inside chuckle to himself. King had just finished several days here in Djibouti teaching Japanese Soldiers about IED’s, in their native tongue.




Japanese Soldiers wait for their instructions from the instructor, Sgt. Bobby King of Task Force Longrifles.


Needless to say, it was the Soldiers of the Kentucky National Guard that got to chuckle to themselves when we looked around at our active duty counterparts in all the other branches, who were looking on in astonishment as one of these good ’ol Kentucky Guardsmen starting teaching a class on IED’s, in Japanese.

These Soldiers aren’t your typical Guard Soldiers.


This entry was posted in Soldier Profiles. Bookmark the permalink.